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Friday, 24 April, 2015 - 11:40 am

Comedian Jay Leno performed some stand-up before a crowd in Israel this past May. Here were some of his top hits: 

“President Obama has declared the month of May Jewish American Heritage Month. He is calling it an opportunity to renew our ‘unbreakable bond with the nation of Israel.’ And he knows it’s unbreakable because he’s been trying to break it for the last five years.”

“I’ve been doing my research. According to the Central Bureau of Statistics, in Israel the most popular boys name is Noam. The least popular boys name? John Kerry.” 

Rabbi Israel Meir Lau, present Chief Rabbi of Tel Aviv and former Chief Rabbi of Israel, represented Israel in many meetings with world leaders. In 1997, Rabbi Lau traveled to Cairo to meet with Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. At the president’s request, he also visited the grand mufti of Egypt, Dr. Mohammed Tantawi, also known as Sheik Al Azhar, Egypt’s most senior religious representative. 

They spoke of the need for peace and brotherhood. Rabbi Lau related one segment of their conversation: 

“Then I asked, out of politeness, if he would be willing to pay me a visit in Jerusalem. I promised to receive him with the same degree of respect that he had shown us. But his answer was abrupt: ‘Only if my passport is stamped with the seal of a Palestinian state. I will not have my passport stamped with the seal of the State of Israel.’

“I was unwilling to let this extremist view pass, and I pressed him. ‘Here we have been talking about friendship and good neighborliness, so why does the stamp bother you? My passport has the Egyptian stamp, and I am proud to have visited President Hosni Mubarak. Every attempt to advance peace and understanding between us is welcome.’

“But Sheik Al Azhar did not change his position. In his eyes, the Israelis had stolen Jerusalem from the Muslims. I could not allow such a statement to go unchallenged: 

“’I have done a little ‘homework’ on you,’ I admitted. ‘I know you have a doctorate, and I was curious about the topic of your dissertation. I found out that you wrote about Jews and Judaism in the Koran. So I conclude that not only do you know Islam, but you know about Judaism as well. I also know something about Judaism, but I don’t know anything about Islam. So please permit me to ask, how many times does Jerusalem appear in the Koran? After all, we’re talking about the holy city, Al Kuds. Islam’s fundamental text must surely make mention of such a holy city,’ I said. The sheik gave me a long, silent look.

“I continued to press my point: ‘In our Bible, the word ‘Jerusalem,’ and its synonym ‘Zion’ appear not just once or twice, but 821 times. This proves the centrality of Jerusalem in the Jewish faith and consciousness.’

“’So tell me,’ I repeated my question. ‘How many times does the word Jerusalem appear in the Koran?’ Again the sheik held his tongue.

“’Can I make a guess?’ I said, and he looked at me in silence.

“’Is the answer zero?’ I asked.

“Zafzat, his deputy, nodded his head.

“With that unforgettable affirmation, I left for the synagogue to recite the afternoon and evening services with the tiny Jewish community of Cairo. I had the feeling that despite Israel’s official peace with Egypt, we had a long way to go to achieve a stable and lasting peace, because some people, parties and movements still refused to accept the existence of Israel as a fact and the right of Jews to live there."

What is fascinating is—as the Midrash points out that the Hebrew name for the city, Yerushlayim, is a combination of the two names Yireh and Shalem.  This means to “see peace,” or “wholesome awe.”

Our Rabbis taught in Talmud: One should always live in the Land of Israel... for whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a G-d, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no G-d…

Now, we all know it is a great privilege to live in the Holy Land.

Once—this was during the early 19th century—some German scholars poked fun at the Jewish people, as a nomad and parasitic people, without even a homeland to call theirs. 

The Rabbi responded: You are mistaken. The Jewish people have a homeland; it is a  “Portable Homeland” and it is the Torah. 

How can we do that? Benjamin Netanyahu said these words to Birthright visitors in 2012:  “Have you been to the Wall? You touched them, the stones?... You’re touching your birthright. This is your homeland, literally. This is where we all sprang up from. This is where the Jewish people forged their identity. This is where we lived for thousands of years until we were kicked out for thousands of years. And then we did something no people has done in history. A lot of people were kicked out and a lot of people disappeared. We refused to disappear and we wanted to come back to our homeland and we did, against all odds.”

But the Prime Minister did not explain how our people managed to do the impossible against all odds. It is because for 2000 years, even in exile, we never really left Jerusalem. Because Jerusalem is not only a geographical locations, located between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean. That too, of course. But they represent a certain consciousness, energy, sanctity, spirit, meaning, that is metaphysical. If you choose to direct your life, your thoughts, mindset, heart, behavior toward G-d—that is the space G-d chooses. Your space becomes a reflection of Jerusalem.

When one rises to pray, he must pray facing toward the direction of Israel; within Israel, one faces toward Jerusalem, and in Jerusalem one faces toward the site of the Temple.

A story is told that in the 1930, the Chofetz Chaim, received a letter from a Jewish soldier who had been drafted into the Polish army. The soldier related that he was assigned to a remote base where there were no Jewish soldiers, no religious services, no kosher food and where it was impossible to keep Shabbat or any mitzvah at all. His question to the Chofetz Chaim: "How do I survive as a Jew in this forsaken place?"

The reply of the Chofetz Chaim: "If it is impossible for you to keep Shabbat, kashrut, or to keep mitzvot, don't be discouraged. There is one thing you can and must do. Whenever you have a free moment, speak to G-d, and whenever you speak to G-d, face east. Why face east? Because you will be directing your thoughts to Jerusalem. In so doing, you will reunite yourself with the Jewish People and with G-d. In fact, whenever a Jew faces Jerusalem in prayer—he or she is in Jerusalem.” 

The Jew may not be in Jerusalem -- but Jerusalem is always in him or her.

That is the meaning of the Talmud words that whoever lives in the Land of Israel may be considered to have a G-d, but whoever lives outside the Land may be regarded as one who has no G-d. A Jew may be physically located outside of Israel, but if that does not become his or her permanent homeland, rather, he or she still “faces” Jerusalem, his mind and heart are in the Holy Land, then this Jew is not “living” outside of Israel. He or she is living in Israel. Conversely, a Jew may physically be located in the region we call Israel, but still must work on living in the sacred consciousness represented by Israel.

In 1990 the publisher of the Jerusalem Post visited the Rebbe. Among other things, the Rebbe told him: “May you not only report from Jerusalem, but also about Yerushlayim!”

There is poem sung by Jews the world over each Friday night. This is the Lecho Dodi, composed in 15th century Sefad by Rabbi Shlomo Elkabatz (who was murdered by an Arab in Sefad). The words of this poem capture best the full synthesis of the soul and body of Jerusalem:

“O Sanctuary of the King, Royal City – Arise and depart from amid the upheaval; too long have you dwelled in the valley of tears…

“Shake off the dust – arise! Clothe yourself with my people with your garments of splendor…

“May your oppressor be downtrodden, and may those who devoured you be cast far off. Your G-d will rejoice over you, like a groom’s rejoicing over his bride.” Happy Birth Day Israel.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yoseph Geisinsky


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